Embrace the Darkness

Jackie Estacado may be the current prime Darkness wielder, but it’s corrupt taint is centuries old and has been influencing man for far longer than anyone can imagine. And as Jackie just learned in the comics after a confrontation with his estranged sister, he isn’t the only one with the ability to tap into its dark power like he had previously thought. Building on that idea, 2K gave us a preview of a new narrative cooperative game mode for The Darkness II called Vendettas, where four other Darkness wielders are teaming up to bring the fight to the Brotherhood and lend Jackie a hand he may not even realize he needs.

Once we picked real life co-op partners and settled into our chairs in front of some consoles, the new characters we could choose from settled into their own chairs around a poker table and began to plan their next move on how they would assist our dear Jackie’s fight while remaining hidden to him.

Starting off, we were introduced to Dr. J.P. DuMond. The descendent of a Creole family who settled in New Orleans over a century and a half ago, DuMond was a respectable doctor. But he was also a curious man and wished to re-discover some of his family’s roots by practicing a form of Louisiana Voodoo that he would use to heal his patients of their dark energies and store them in dolls. After some time though, he had accumulated a few too many dolls and was forced to keep them in a black metal box, which he nicknamed his Box of Tricks. When even that became too much, DuMond buried the box, hoping returning the evil to the Earth would rid him of the horrors he had compiled. Then a hurricane happened to hit New Orleans and the box was unearthed and came to the attention of the Brotherhood, who were drawn to this psychic sickness and its weaponization possibilities like moths to flame. Burdened with this responsibility, DuMond fights to protect the box and unleashes some of his “tricks”, upon those who would use it for nefarious means. DuMond’s favorite? Black Hole, which opens a vortex up in time and space and unleashes dark magic upon all those nearby and consumes them like maggots on a carcass. DuMond also has his Midnight Stick, which he uses as his Dark conduit to heal his allies as well as inflict harm on his foes as he can use it to wield what some would say is low-level telekinesis.

Next was Shoshanna. An agent of the Israeli Intelligence Agency, Mossad, Shoshanna is as by the books as they come. Israel has been aware of the Darkness for decades and has been training operatives to deal with it, and the Brotherhood, as necessary to prevent any type of worldwide conflict where it could prosper. She wields the Arm of the Night, a sawed-off shotgun infused with Dark essence. A heirloom that has been in her family for over 75 years, the Arm is interesting as it has unlimited ammo, but only four bullets a clip and is slow to reload so is best used for only dire situations. Her accompanying power is Gun Channeling. The Darkness’s infatuation with death-dealing technology allows Shoshanna to fire an even more powerful blast from the Arm, often dealing a one hit kill.

Next we came to Jimmy Wilson who looks like he belongs more in the WWE than fighting the Darkness. Not much is known about Jimmy and you don’t need to know much. He looks like WWE Superstar Sheamus except he’s Scottish and not Irish. But he hates the English just as much and believes the Brotherhood is simply the English trying to take over the world again. Whatever his motivations, Jimmy is an excellent fighter and uses his Darkness infused hand axe to deal death up close and afar when he flings it like a boomerang. Jimmy is actually the closest to the Darkness of the four, but is often too drunk to understand as he can motion his axe to summon darklings to his aid. Jimmy simply thinks of them as his special drunken fairies though and lovingly refers to them as his “Little Jimmys” (suddenly sounding more like WWE wrestler R-Truth) when he sends them into the fray.

Finally we came upon Inugami. Although he may not be as connected to the Darkness as much as the others, Inugami’s sword Kusanagi has been feeding on the souls of the innocent and the damned for more than 2000 years now. The ancient beginnings of the Brotherhood would use the sword to perform countless innocent sacrifices to their Darkness infused priests and soon the sword became as possessed as the wielders and would search for souls to feed on. It is said that the Darkness will leave the sword once it has feasted on 10,000 damned souls, the same amount of innocent souls it consumed while in Brotherhood hands. Looking to fulfill this curse, Inugami is on a thankless quest to bring death to those who would wrong others. But, there’s a catch. For every night he fails to kill an evildoer, the sword takes a small chuck of Inugami’s life force equal to one year off his life. So far, the sword has sampled Inugami 17 times. Inugami can call upon the Darkness in the sword to perform Swarm, an attack that sends a cloud of miniature demons after enemies and tears them apart like locusts on crops.

“This was a great opportunity to grow the universe. So we went to Paul Jenkins, who wrote on the comics and wrote both games, and told him to make whatever he wanted for four new characters. Our only direction was we needed four and that they needed to be strong enough that they could support a game all on their own. And at first he seemed intimidated by that, but then he realized the opportunity as well and just ran with it,” said 2K Producer Seth Olshfski on the idea of creating these four original characters.

Once settled in, I picked J.P. and my partner picked Inugami. Playing through the first two levels of the co-op narrative we began with rescuing a character who isn’t necessarily Jackie’s favorite person in the world, but figures he owes him one and so once rescued by the four, will serve as your “handler” of sorts as his Darkness knowledge has made him invaluable to many and will send you on missions looking for ways to harm the Brotherhood’s operations in New York. Although not as cool as Jackie’s quad wielding Darkness abilities and set up as more of a traditional two-handed first-person shooter, the need to work together and the clear differences between each character are evident from the get go. And the banter between each character adds a unique comedic twist to the story that compels you to push forward to see how everyone will continue to interact with each other.

“We knew the single player game would be heavy. Jackie’s life is not easy. And the things that happen to him are not pleasant. Jackie’s stories never end with puppies, rainbows, sunshine, and happiness. That’s what you want for single player. But a game you’re playing with friends? You don’t want that strong emotional moment while you’re on a headset with other people. You want more of a gallows humor you would have talking about how you’d blow up when the grenade came down while you’re fighting in the trenches. And that idea of a dark comedy helped inspire where we went with the narrative co-op,” said Olshfski when speaking about the tone of Vendettas.

After completing our pair of story missions, we were introduced to the Hit List mode, which are separate missions from the main co-op narrative campaign, but still fit in to how the four work together and how they face off against the Brotherhood. We were shown a middle level Hit List mission where the four must take down a Brotherhood big wig that works for the local news station. Unwisely, my partner and I chose new characters to get a different feel of the game with, me going with Shoshanna and him with Jimmy. I say unwisely because the difficulty level definitely spikes as you progress further in the modes and not having leveled these character up like we had J.P. and Inugami left us at a distinct disadvantage when Brotherhood minions began swarming us for the climatic final battle of the mission on the news building’s rooftop. After several deaths we were able to overcome the level, but clearly leveling up your character’s powers in earlier missions will be key to progressing through either Vendettas or Hit List. An interesting note we learned while playing this mission though was that although you can play Vendettas by yourself if you so choose, there are many missions in Hit List that require the co-op assistance of a friend. Looks like I had better go back to work on actually leaving my hole in the ground and making some friends then!

“Vendettas as its own game, is enough of a game that you could put it in its own box and sell it. Early in development, we felt the core pillar we needed to support was in service to the story. We talked about competitive multiplayer and some other things, but narrative based co-op was it because we could tell a really interesting story. A lot of people tack on the multiplayer aspect at the end because someone says they have to. This was our plan from the very beginning,” said Olshfski when I asked him about just how much of an experience people can expect from this new mode. If that is true and The Darkness II is akin to two stories in one with this new, intriguing, and highly polished mode, then I think this is going to be a game that will please a very wide audience for a variety of reasons and I can’t wait to personally embrace the darkness come February 2012.